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Writers need readers too

5 August 2013

Two press articles have this week raised an interesting debate about the role of writers and what it's reasonable to expect them to do, and the importance of readers in the writing-and-reading continuum.

Anakana Schofield is a Canadian who has been working away at her writing for many years. Now she's managed to find a Canadian publisher and even a British publisher who has offered a decent advance. The trouble is, she thinks she has to do an unreasonable number of interviews which are all boringly about her, rather than her writing, which is what she really wants to talk about.

For her the debate is elsewhere: A debut author's publicist tells her, as every honest publicist should, the bald truth that: ‘Newspapers like personal stories. Ideally, confessional stories. Best of all: confessional stories that relate to the fiction she spent years making up. So she spends years using her imagination only to discover that she must dig about in her psychoanalytic compost heap, and retrieve something that reveals that, in fact, she has not made it up at all.'

I'm afraid this is true, the media have become obsessed with the details of writers' lives, but are not always as interested in what they've written. Never have writers provided such good copy and commanded so much space in the media, never have so few books been reviewed, at a time when book coverage is being cut and literary editors are fast becoming an endangered species.
Anakana goes on to say: ‘These days, an author, especially an unknown author, must - in order to entice any readers to her work who aren't blood relatives - write endless unpaid blogs, articles and responses for newspapers and magazines and random people creating things in basements. What results is the subsidising of publishers by outsourcing the marketing of the book to the writer, and now and again the subsidising of often giant media corporations, who in times gone by would have had to pay her.'
But she also thinks there should be much more focus on readers and the importance of readers' involvement and attention: ‘There seems to have been a shift from a reading culture to a writing culture, a diminishment of critical space for the contemplation of literature. Writing needs to be discussed and interrogated through reading. If you wish to write well, you need to read well, or at least widely.'

Ruth Killick, former Publicity Director at Profile, writes a riposte in Bookbrunch in which she says it's justified to ask authors to do pr for free to promote their book and she adds:
‘The most important question is, surely, where are the readers in all this? Ultimately what I felt was lacking in her piece was enough consideration of this most important group of all: the readers. Readers are often curious about the writing process, and not just because they are all closet writers themselves. It's the readers who buy - and more importantly, read - the books, who come to the literary events. It's these enthusiasts who form book groups - again, something that's gained in popularity over the last few years and brought vitality into the book world.'

Anakana Schofield

Ruth Killick